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The DARMA Initiative: Affordable Upper Stage Rocket Engine

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 12, 2011
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One of the most interesting objects on display at Space Access ’11 was a full-scale rocket engine from a little-known company called DARMA Technology. A transplant from South Korea, the Denver-based company is marketing the engine as having performance close to that of the HL-10 upper stage, but at a fraction at the cost.

The reusable Chase-10 engine is powered by liquid-oxygen (LOX) and methane and has a thrust of 22,000 lbs., somewhat lower than the RL-10’s 24,750 lbs of thrust. In its promotional material, the company says the rocket has a simple, robust design built with advanced manufacturing techniques that make it an affordable alternative to other engines in its class. The engine is reusable with a lifespan estimated at 10,000 seconds.

DARMA is marketing it for $3 million apiece, which company officials say is almost 13 times lower than the $38 million cost for an RL-10 rocket used in the second stages of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. The RL-10 is built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and originally flew in 1959.

ULA recently teamed up with XCOR Aerospace to develop a replacement for the RL-10 that would be more powerful and significant cheaper to operate. The development process is expected to take several years.

DARMA’s roots go back to the creation of C&Space, Inc. (CSI) in South Korea in 2004 by rocket researchers formerly with the Hyundai Group. In 2007, the company filed a patent for its methane engine. Two years later, it established DARMA Technology in the United States.

DARMA has been testing its engine at a test facility run by Frontier Astronautics in Chugwater, Wyo.